Have you ever felt overwhelmed by new responsibilities? That may be the way St. Timothy felt when St. Paul designated him to be the leader of a community of Christians, almost all of whom had been recently converted.
St. Paul had the great gift of converting people to faith in Christ and then organizing them into a local church. Paul believed that he was called to keep moving out to new areas: “It has always been my aim is to preach the Gospel where Christ is not yet known” (Rom 15:20). As Paul moved on, he commissioned others to lead the newly formed communities.
This is the situation of Timothy in today’s second reading (2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14). We know from Paul’s letters, such as the First Letter to the Corinthians, that even these first Christians had their conflicts. Timothy may have felt that the burden was more than he could carry.
Paul urges Timothy not to be intimidated by his task. Paul has not left him without any resources. He had left him with the Holy Spirit: “Stir into flame the gift of God bestowed when my hands were laid upon you. The Spirit God has given us is no cowardly spirit but a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:6-7).
The practice of stretching hands over those who are being ordained continues today as deacons and priests are ordained by the laying on of hands. If the giving of the Spirit by the laying on of hands was reserved for those ordained, we might assume that Paul’s words do not apply to us. In fact, however, most Christians have received the Spirit by the laying on of hands.
When we are baptized, water is poured over our heads and the crown of our heads are anointed with sacred chrism, signifying that we are receiving the Holy Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is intensified in the sacrament of Confirmation, when the bishop stretches his hands over our heads and anoints our foreheads with sacred chrism, saying “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The Second Vatican Council relates the responsibility of witnessing to Christ to all those who have been baptized and confirmed:
The apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the Church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate by Christ Himself… The laity are given this special vocation: to make the church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth. Every lay person, through the gifts given to him/her is at once the witness and living instrument of the mission of the Church itself…” (Lumen Gentium, “The Constitution on the Church,” 35).
Confirmation completes Baptism, especially with regard to witnessing to one’s faith.
St. Thomas Aquinas compares Baptism and Confirmation with birth and maturity: “Just as he who is baptized receives the power of testifying to his faith by receiving the other sacrament; so he who is confirmed receives the power of publicly confessing his faith by words” (3a. 72, 5 ad 2).
Thomas’ suggestions why the forehead is anointed may not be customary in our times, yet they illustrate the effect of the sacrament:
In this sacrament man receives the Holy Spirit for strength in spiritual combat that he may bravely confess the Faith of Christ even in face of enemies of that Faith… The forehead, which is hardly ever covered is the most conspicuous part of the human body. Wherefore the confirmed is anointed with chrism on the forehead that he may show publicly that he is a Christian: thus too the apostles after receiving the Holy Ghost showed themselves in public, whereas before they remained hidden. Secondly, man is hindered from freely confessing Christ’s name, by two things – by fear and by shame. Now both these things betray themselves principally on the forehead… Therefore man is signed with chrism, that neither fear nor shame may hinder him from confessing the name of Christ (3a. 72, 9).
Each one of us has received gifts from the Spirit, as St. Paul states: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7). Each one of us has gifts from the Spirit but these are meant to be shared with others.
Paul advises Timothy “Stir up the grace of God which is in you by the imposition of my hands” (2 Tim 1:6). Stirring up the grace is compared by Thomas Aquinas to the stirring up of a fire: “For the grace of God is as a fire which, when it is covered over with ashes, gives no light; so is God’s grace covered over with sloth or human fear. Hence the effect of timidity in Timothy’s case was that he ceased preaching” (Commentary on the Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, 13).
According to Thomas, Paul is urging Timothy “to stir up the grace now dormant.” Paul cautions us: “Extinguish not the Spirit” ( 1 Thess 5:19).
Pope Saint Paul VI wrote a powerful letter on evangelization. He spoke of the silent witness of Christians, whose lives stir up questions: “Such a witness is already a silent proclamation of the Good News and a very powerful and effective one (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 21).
Eventually, the Pope explains: “The Good News proclaimed by the witness of life sooner or later has to be proclaimed by the word of life. There is no true evangelization if the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God are not proclaimed” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 22).
Nevertheless, Pope Paul reminds us, even the most eloquent words are still not convincing in themselves: “The first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbor with limitless zeal… Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”… (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).
Fear holds us back from doing what God calls us to do. Thomas reflects “One who accepts a post should act in accordance with its demands. Therefore we should serve God according to His gifts” (Commentary on Second Timothy, 14). We can serve God if we rely on His help. Timothy is told to “labor with the Gospel.” Timothy’s confidence will not be in himself, but, as Isaiah declared: “It is He who gives strength to the weary, and increases force and might in them that are not” (Is 40:29).
Paul insists, “God has not given us the spirit of fear” (2 Tim 1:7). Elsewhere Paul says, “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is of God” (1 Cor 2:12). Thomas explains that either spirit gives rise to love because “the name ‘spirit’ suggests an impulse; and love impels.” Love is what drives us.
The spirit of the world makes us love the good things of the world. Because of this love, we fear the evils that come with the loss of those things. We fear to lose what we love.
Opposed to this fear is the fear of the Lord, which Thomas describes as “holy” and “from God.” Whereas the other love gives us fear, this love and its fear gives us power (2 Tim 1:7). Thomas attests: “Because by the Holy Spirit we are protected against evils; and this by the virtue of courage against the adversities of the world” (Commentary on Second Timothy, 14). Jesus promised them that they would be “… clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
Paul told Timothy that the spirit he received was a spirit of “love.” Thomas reflects: “We are directed in the good because our loves are put in order by charity, when one refers to God all that he loves… ‘whoever does not love, abides in death’ (1 John 3:14)” When our loves are given order by the holy Spirit, we are not afraid to lose them.
Paul instructs Timothy “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim 1:8). According to Thomas, Timothy has “the spirit of courage,” even if the preaching of Christ might seem like foolishness compared with the wisdom of the world: “We preach Christ crucified, for the Jews a stumbling-block, and for the Gentiles, foolishness” (1 Cor 1:25). Paul himself asserts, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel (Rom 1:16).
Paul informs Timothy: “Hold the form of sound words which you heard of me: in faith and in the love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 1:13). Thomas declares: “The true faith is concerned with the things Christ taught, and true love is found in Christ, who gave the Holy Spirit through whom we love God” (Commentary on Second Timothy, 30).
Timothy is told, “Keep the good things committed to your trust by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us” (2 Tim 1:14). Thomas comments: “…never depart from the truth or give up the office of preaching because of fear” (Commentary on Second Timothy, 31). Our preaching may not be formal preaching but, as Saint Paul VI has said, it is the preaching we do by our lives. The presence of the Spirit is our source of strength: “Know you not that you are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References are to Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Second Letter to Timothy, Vol. 40, The Works of St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by F.R. Larcher, O.P., edited by J. Mortensen and E. Alarcón, (Lander Wyoming: Aquinas Institute, 2012).
References to St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, which, in this homily, is the third part. Then the question is given. For instance, question 72 and then the article, for instance the 5th. If the reference is from Thomas response to an objection, the number of the objection is added, with the Latin word, ad, meaning “to,” in this case, it is the reply to the second objection.